Before I left Ohio, what I knew about Mormons could be summed up in four words: "the Osmonds" and "Danny Ainge." Like with out-of-closet gays, I couldn't name a single Mormon I knew.
When Maddie and I simultaneously went to grad school, she in Indiana and me in Washington, I paid for her expenses by keeping mine very low. I took out a student loan, sent her the money, and myself lived in a dorm. My living in that dorm for a year led to my meeting Elizabeth, which is all well and good, but it also led to my meeting Fucking Amy and Mormonism.
The latter came in the most insidious form of all: an utterly charming, bright young redhead named Leanne. Hoping to just serve my time and move to proper accommodations, I hadn't wanted much to do with my fellow residents, but Leanne wore me down. She wouldn't take no for an answer, pounding on my locked door until I relented. There was no resisting her. We became friends.
Many a night we'd sit in my dorm, she sharing the excitement of her newfound love with the guy down the hall, me sharing the pain of what turned out to be the end times with Maddie. Leanne was becoming an English teacher, and I was teaching for the first time. We talked about teaching, life, love, plans, dreams. I got sucked into this fantastically warm, kind woman's orbit.
Religion didn't come up that much, but I knew hers was important to her. It was that Osmond thing I knew nothing about. Rather than admit ignorance, I went to the library. There was a surprisingly deep collection of books about Mormonism, both admiring and damning. I skipped past those and cracked open a more neutral, academic source, the Harvard Theological Review. An hour later, I shut the book and stared out the window.
This was the most moronic religion I'd ever heard of.
Some American teenage brat claims that he's talked to an angel and now leads the one true religion, and these morons actually, like, believe him? I thought. What the fucking fuck? For God's sake, the angel was even named "Moroni." And then there were these magical gold plates no one ever saw, instructions from God to revise the bible and, presumably, to marry as many teenage girls as possible before it became politically inexpedient.
It turns out I hadn't known any Mormons previously because Midwesterners ran 'em out of the Midwest in the 1800s. I too wasn't in danger of becoming a Mormon anytime soon, but I also didn't hold it against Leanne. I believed in her, if not her especially silly religion.
Meanwhile, I became friends with another young woman, Hilary. She hailed from Salt Lake City and had been raised Mormon, but she had walked away as a teenager and never looked back—except when the church came knocking on her door, which was apparently very, very often. Hil was mildly amused that I was becoming close to a Mormon and even more amused by my ignorance. She took it upon herself to get me up to speed. I learned about the Holy Mormon Underwear. I learned that wouldn't be allowed into the Temple when my friend got married. I learned about the vow of masturbation. I learned about in absentia baptisms of the dead. I learned about the baby heaven full of souls waiting to be birthed by good Mormon girls.
This religion just kept getting stupider and stupider.
Hil got personal. "Let me guess. She's the most upbeat, kind, cloying person you know."
"Let me tell you what's going to happen with your friend," she declared with jarring confidence. "She's going to marry the first Mormon guy she meets here, and she's going to marry him fast. He'll be just back from his mission and horny as hell. They'll start crapping out kids by the bushel, and she'll spend the rest of her life in total subjugation, dropping litters and doing chores for the church. Guaranteed."
"Not Leanne," I said. "You don't know her like I do. She loves teaching. Her whole world is teaching English to ESL kids. Yeah, she's dating the only other Mormon in our dorm, and yeah, he's just back from his mission, but she's even told me she won't get married for six years. Until her career is established."
"Mmm hmm," Hil replied.
"Besides, the guy is a thoughtless lump. She'd never marry him."
"Of course not."
After Christmas break, Leanne came back with an engagement ring on her finger. Lump had proposed exactly three months after they had met. Leanne had accepted. They were getting married in the summer and would celebrate their three-month wedding anniversary a year to the day after they met.
"What about waiting until you were 27?" I asked.
"Oh, forget that!" she squealed, delighted.
Tomorrow: I become a follower of the latter-day Prophet Hilary.